Kashmir's famous floating market

30th May 2019
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 1/10 by Mayank Soni
Most of the vegetables sold at the Dal’s floating market are grown on the waters of the lake itself and retrieved just hours before being sold. Here a boatman washes his stock before taking it to the market

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In our times very few floating markets still thrive on lakes across the world. Among them is the Dal Lake market, where locals carry out trade out of their canoes.

Most of the produce sold here is grown on floating gardens of the lake itself. The rich ecosystem of this wetland produces plentiful of tomatoes, cucumbers, water nuts and of course the famous nadru (lotus roots, a delicacy in the Kashmir Valley). Of the many fables of this over-a-century-old market is a story about the melons that once grew here. It is said they were so delicious, the first crop each year was sent all the way to Agra for the royal table of Mughal kings.

It's an adventure on its own, to catch these elusive boatmen in action. They gather in the centre of the lake precisely at the crack of dawn and wrap up just as sunlight hits the waters. The haggling, arguing and exchange, all lasts hardly an hour, soon after which everyone disappears back to their villages like the market never existed.

Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 2/10 by Mayank Soni
The floating gardens or rad, as known in the local tongue are a unique feature of the lake. They basically constitute of matted vegetation and soil, but are detached from the bottom of the lake. The rich ecosystem of the lake produces tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, melons, brinjal and Kashmiri saag
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 3/10 by Mayank Soni
It is only a miracle how these boatmen manage to stay afloat despite being perched precariously on the edge of their canoes while exchanging their wares. Their canoes are crafted of deodar wood which also adorns the pillars of the famous Jamia Masjid in the city
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 4/10 by Mayank Soni
Soon after the British left the Dham Hanji people of Kashmir took over the houseboats of the lake. Today around 100 families inhabit the tiny islands on the lake and run these houseboats for tourists
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 5/10 by Mayank Soni
The floating market is operational only during the summer months, for which some boatmen row almost 15 kms each day from their fields. During the harsh winters the lake residents like others have to get their supplies from the mainland
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 6/10 by Mayank Soni
The market is over a century old, and one of its many fables is that the melons that once grew here were so delicious that the first crop of the year used to be sent all the way to the royal table of the Mughal kings in Agra.
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 7/10 by Mayank Soni
Few other floating markets exist in our times such as the Cai Rang’s floating market of Vietnam, the Solomon Islands market and Damnoen Saduak floating market of Thailand. While most of these are primarily fruits and vegetables market the one in Thailand also sell hot soups and cooked foods
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 8/10 by Mayank Soni
Ashrafji has been coming to this market for over two decades and is happy to see that the old ways still persist. But with the younger generation moving up to better jobs he’s not sure how long the tradition of the floating market will cont
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 9/10 by Mayank Soni
The ride on the Dal is also a great opportunity to catch the waterfowl residents
Photo of Kashmir's famous floating market 10/10 by Mayank Soni
A boatman takes nap in the shade a houseboat, after the early morning ferry at villages on the Dal
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